Review: “The Punisher”

From “Death Wish” to “Commando”, the story of one well-trained man seeking revenge against those that have hurt or killed his family is far from new. Every action hero star has done a film like this, hell half the direct to video movies out there work on the same principle such as the Dolph Lundgren-led 1989 video movie “The Punisher”. Thankfully this adaptation is better than that or what it’s rather hokum trailers would have you to believe, and yet despite some admittedly strong moments it’s certainly nothing special and barely above ordinary.

Jonathan Hensleigh, best known for penning many of the late 90’s Bruckheimer movie scripts, makes an ok debut here in the directing chair of this relatively modest budgeter but can never quite get a sense of direction or tone, leaving the film to shift between hard-edged brutality, 80’s TV cop drama, and awkward humour sometimes all within the same shot. These films rely on being streamlined and set in their ways right from the beginning (like “Kill Bill” and “Walking Tall” have shown) yet even by the end of its slightly too long runtime it hasn’t quite gelled.

Part of that blame can be laid on the characters. By definition the tragedy leaves the character a one-dimensional monosyllabic killing machine which Thomas Jane plays well but despite the rippling body one can’t help but see that here’s a guy with charisma and intelligence who’s playing it down. Seems with losing his family, Frank lost much of his intelligence too.

His support from a trio of neighbours (including an all too wasted part by Rebecca Romjin) isn’t much, likewise the assorted other supporting characters from Saint’s and Castle’s families to the grunt baddies get so little development or attention that there’s nothing for them to do but be cannon fodder (Will Patton at least gets a LITTLE bit too do).

Funnily enough of all people who shine in this movie it’s Travolta. The man at last tones it down to play a villain that’s not a giggly over the top maniac but rather a totally straightforward gangster. Travolta seems to be having a ball but never gets silly or even laughs which makes his menace somewhat believable for once. Helping along is also the reliance on old fashioned action fights and stunts with pretty much no CGI or wirework – replacing that with sheer brutal combat. One such scene in which Jane battles with a blonde giant named ‘The Russian’ in his apartment to opera tunes is the film’s highlight.

Other moments of humour from a ‘meeting the neighbours’ scene to a clever idea of money disposal do seem oddly inventive in this otherwise straight-laced and by the numbers affair. Moments that delve into comic book pathos from the final shot of the movie to the outfit discovery are laughably bad sadly. Overall the film does prove better than expected, but it’s average at best and hardly a recommend. As comic adaptations go this is one many will plain forget.